Another close one, huh? At one point, the Zags built a 20 point lead and I mentally checked out. OK, that’s not true. I was still worried. “Checked out” in this case means “started thinking about what I’ll talk about in the recap.” Before Saint Mary’s mounted their furious rally the storyline would have been Olynyk, Bell’s defense, and Dower’s potential reemergence on offense. All of that disappeared, however, when the Gael’s began to claw back in the game early in the 2nd half without any help from their star, Matthew Dellavedova.
If you had given me Dellavedova’s shooting line from this game (17 points on 5/16 shooting, 3/10 from three) I would have assumed that we won going away. Making him work that hard to get his average, keeping him from getting on a roll from three, and hounding him into 4 turnovers… that’s a good sign, right? It’s a great sign for Gary Bell, who has proven to be an excellent on ball defender, and a decent sign for the coaching staff as well. We've had trouble corralling individual stars in recent years (see: Paul, Brandon), and it looks like Few decided to do something about it. Hard doubles on ball screens, big men hedging towards “Delly” when he drove, funky rotations, etc. Few basically told Randy Bennett to find someone else to score. Unfortunately, he managed to do just that.
|AP Photo/Jed Conklin|
The big run for SMC started, according to my notes, around the 12 minute mark of the second half. Dellavedova was on the bench and players like Stephen Holt (who looked mediocre during the first half) and Beau Levesque started to scrap together easy buckets. Holt scored 20, on 8/13 shooting, and Levesque added 14, but the story of this game isn’t really any individual player. Simply put, the Gaels crashed the offensive glass, and they crashed it hard. Saint Mary’s had 15 offensive boards. According to the box score, Gonzaga only had 23 rebounds total. That’s a big deal. The Zags would play average to good defense for 25 seconds, force someone into an awkward shot, and then give up an offensive rebound that would lead to a bunny or another offensive set. It was infuriating to watch, and it would have been our undoing if Saint Mary’s hadn’t gifted us with some terrible free throw shooting.
Both teams made 15 free throws, with Saint Mary’s taking 23 and Gonzaga taking 18. The stats don’t tell you how many times Brad Waldow, for example, missed the front end of a one-and-one. That stuff adds up, and we’re lucky to have pulled this thing out. If we had been able to secure more defensive boards, we might not have needed that luck, but a wins a win, and a rivalry game like this leads to some crazy stuff happening.
Olynyk. He carried this team (again) and probably could have had 40 if he didn’t go on a short slump midway through the 2nd, missing 3 or 4 relatively easy shots. His offensive game is diverse and he’s been nailing his free throws. Turnovers are still a problem, but he’s a high usage guy, so it’s to be expected.
Pangos. He had 22, but they all seemed to come in really huge spots. One huge three to stop the initial bleeding and put us up nine with 8 to go. A runner to answer a tough Dellavedova shot. Etc. He played under control all game.
Dower? He hit 4 shots and ended up with 8 points, which is a positive! Right? He was more aggressive than he has been lately, though he disappeared in the second half. It's a little depressing that I'm considering this a step forward for him.
Gary Bell’s Defense. Great D all game. Stuck on Dellavedova so tight he could probably tell you what he had for lunch. I bet it was kale. Aggressive without fouling… great stuff.
Rebounding. Gotta believe Few will spend a couple days shouting about that, which he totally should. Really awful. Gave SMC new life when our offense had been clicking all game. That won’t fly in March, and the staff knows it. Can you imagine a Tom Izzo team playing against us tonight?
Everyone’s offense outside of the “big three.” Olynyk, Pangos, and Harris have been carrying the load these past few games, but as we’ve seen, Pangos is prone to the occasional multi-game slump. We need Bell to step up (though obviously his focus tonight was on D, which I understand) and we need Karnowski and Dower to look for their shot more. I always get a little nervous when any post-Morrison team begins to rely on one scorer for a stretch, and for all our vaunted depth, 3 players did the lion's share of the scoring.
All in all, tough game that we should have put away early in the 2nd half. We haven’t seen a true “killer instinct” in Spokane for several years now, and I can’t help but worry about that. The truly great teams don’t coast when they get up 20, they smell blood in the water and finish the game strong. When Calipari was at Memphis, that’s what his teams did to us. UNC with Ty Lawson or Kendall Marshall. You get it. I don’t think this is the start of a downward slide or anything, just a reminder that no matter how deep or talented your team is, the second you lose focus a determined opponent can bring you down to Earth.